Pre-teens addicted to social media and digital devices highly likely to develop a behavioral disorder

SAN FRANCISCO – Pre-teen children who spend more than four hours staring at screens or interacting on social media are far more likely to develop disruptive behavioral disorders.

A team of pediatrics researchers at UC San Francisco say excessive screen use among kids between ages nine and 11 displays a connection to conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). The researchers add that too much screen time on phones, televisions, computers, and video games all make “tweens” more susceptible to exhibiting anti-social or aggressive behavior. Each different type of screen time presented its own unique behavioral issues. However, the researchers stress that unchecked social media screen time may be particularly harmful in influencing kids’ behavior.

Children in the study who looked at screens for more than four hours a day were 69 percent more likely to display conduct disorder issues over the next year.

Frequent social media screen use led to a 62-percent higher prevalence of conduct disorders. Large amounts of television, video game playing, and texting increased the likelihood of developing ODD by 21 percent.

What are the signs a child has a behavioral disorder?

The study authors say the typical characteristics of conduct disorder include bullying, vandalism, and stealing. Results show that social media use had the strongest ties to this behavior. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which includes expressions of anger, irritability, and vindictiveness, displayed greater connections to texting, video games, and watching TV, movies, and videos.

The researchers note that while social media screen time may have the strongest ties to disruptive behavior disorders, it is also the best platform to target for “preventive interventions” moving forward.

“Social media platforms can encourage bullying and aggression, which may contribute to the development of conduct disorder in children,” says Jason Nagata, MD, the lead study author and assistant professor of pediatrics at UCSF, in a university release.

“Children can be exposed to violent content on social media through ads even if they are not searching for it,” Nagata adds. “If kids do search for violence, algorithms will feed back even more disturbing content and children can get stuck in cycles of toxicity.”

The researchers acknowledge that future studies may reveal that ADHD or sleep deprivation are mediating factors between disruptive behavior and screen use.

The UC San Francisco-led study, published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, analyzed responses from 11,875 children between the ages of nine and 11 years-old. On average, the children self-reported that they spend four hours each day looking at screens on televisions, computers, or phones.

In a recent study, Nagata also found that nearly half of adolescents lose track of time because of their attachment to their phones. About one in three young people will stop any real-life activity in order to respond to a message on their phones.

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About the Author

Benjamin Fearnow

Mr. Fearnow has written for Newsweek, The Atlantic & CBS during his New York City-based journalism career. He discusses tech and social media topics on cable news networks.

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